So Cal CUs Showcase Innovations to Latin American Group

Latin American group
Latin American credit union professionals recently visited four Southern California credit unions and the CU Direct Innovation Lab as part of the World Council of Credit Unions’ Immersion Learning Program. Pictured here is the group with World Council Program Manager Thom Belekevich, California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues SVP of Member Solutions Larry Palochik, and CU Direct VP of Innovation Brian Hamilton.

How to innovate without losing the personal touch was one of the primary questions delegates with the World Council of Credit Unions’ Immersion Learning Program had while visiting Southern California credit unions recently. Through visits to the CU Direct Innovation Lab, and branches of SchoolslFirst FCU, South Bay CU, Financial Partners CU, and CalCom FCU, the group of Latin American credit union professionals learned there is a way to embrace technology while maintaining the member relationship.

The program is one of several immersion learning exchanges coordinated through World Council’s Global Classroom—an initiative that provides credit union professionals from around the world the opportunity to network and exchange perspectives on the shared challenges they face. This particular exchange focused on U.S. credit unions’ newest technology dependent product offerings; tools used to increase operational efficiency and improve service delivery to members; collaborative relationships to reduce the cost of implementing new technology; and how financial education and technology are combined to improve the financial wellbeing of members.

The eight-person delegation—in Southern California from Dec. 2-6—consisted of Fernando Jonis, vice president of board of supervision at ACU CU in Curaçao; Elsirha Isenia-Scope, president of the board of supervision at ACU CU in Curaçao; Sonia López Campos, credit and collections manager at Cooperativa Riobamba in Ecuador; Luis Barbecho Tigre, branch manager at Cooperativa Riobamba in Ecuador; Geovanny Baños Noriega, production manager at Cooperativa Riobamba in Ecuador; Susy Murcia, executive assistant at Coosajo in Guatemala; Laura Miyashiro, business manager at Abaco in Peru; and Javier Tokashiki, business development officer at Abaco in Peru. The group was joined by World Council Program Manager Thom Belekevich.

Murcia, from Coosajo in Guatemala, loved the experience. “I learned so much. We received so much good information,” she added.

For more photos of the visit click here

CU Direct Innovation Lab

The nearly week-long round of visits began Dec. 3 when the group spent the day at the CU Direct Innovation Lab in Irvine. There, Belekevich presented information about World Council and the international and national credit union movement. California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues Senior Vice President of Member Solutions Larry Palochik spoke about the Leagues and the California and Nevada credit union landscape.

CU Direct Vice President of Innovation Brian Hamilton gave a tour of the facility, which opened in March 2017 and is dedicated to designing, prototyping, and developing transformative lending technology that improves credit union member experiences. It was designed as a place of collaboration between CU Direct teams, credit unions, auto dealers, and partners. Once a year, the company brings in credit unions to the lab for ideation sessions in which they first are presented problems to solve with no constraints, according to Hamilton. The second day of the sessions, constraints are introduced. Last year, 39 ideas brainstormed became 12 practical ideas which were narrowed to seven deemed most viable after market research. Then CU Direct condensed the list to those that made the most sense for the company to tackle.

“This is innovation through collaboration,” Hamilton said.

SchoolsFirst FCU and South Bay CU

On Dec. 4, the group visited two distinctly different credit unions: SchoolsFirst FCU (the largest in California with $15 billion in assets and 857,000 members) and South Bay CU (with $100-plus million in assets and 7,800 members).

“Our growth has come through a focus on members,” SchoolsFirst FCU CEO Bill Cheney said. “We don’t have a growth strategy, we have a service strategy.”

That service strategy is manifested in the many financial education programs for both its members and students in the communities it serves. This year, it presented the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation’s Bite of Reality program at 23 events, reaching more than 2,000 students. It held 350 in-class presentations and workshops in 2018, reaching more than 14,000 students and adults. The credit union also provides online videos, workshops, and resources to help members became more financially literate. In addition, it also has done much in the area of technology to help members, including being one of the first credit unions to offer eDeposits. It has many other initiatives planned for the future.

Around 2010, South Bay CU started a transformation that changed the way it provides service to its members. It decided to outsource some of its operations, so today all employees are member-facing. The credit union focuses on three areas: providing a culture of convenience, providing excellent member-centric service, and being a trusted cooperative partner. The result has been an increase in growth, especially in lending.

The credit union discussed two of its recent projects: CU Live, or what it calls its virtual branch, in which members can do all their banking (with the exception of receiving cash) online—while being able to talk to a credit union employee via video. The other is a pop-up branch, using a small office space at a certain location where staff can process traditional banking transactions (except for cash) and educate the public about credit unions and South Bay CU. It opened its first pop-up branch at Cross Campus, a community co-working office center in July.

“The credit union still maintains a focus on personal service, even with the use of digital tools, and this combination is one of the reasons for the success of the credit union,” said South Bay CU CEO Jennifer Oliver.

Financial Partners CU and CalCom FCU

On Dec. 5, the delegation witnessed Financial Partners CU’s virtual teller line and learned how collaboration is helping credit unions like CalCom FCU and Nikkei CU succeed and thrive.

In 2014, Financial Partners replaced its teller line with a virtual one. Members can perform banking transactions while interacting with tellers via video conferencing. All tellers are located at the credit union’s Downey location but serve members as far away as San Diego, allowing it to expand its footprint with fewer employees. The credit union has virtual teller machines, staffed by nine employees, at 11 branches.

In addition to the use of technology to enhance operations efficiencies, Financial Partners is quite involved in the communities it serves. It also provides financial education and wellness programs to members, residents, and students via a variety of programs, including online videos and resources. Associate Board Member Alex Saab and Board Member Mario Guerra told the group they are proud to be a part of the credit union—both as members and on the board of directors.

“They do a lot in the community and the community really appreciates that,” Saab said.

CalCom FCU CEO Jon Hernandez talked to the group about what it’s like to be the CEO of three distinct credit unions. Besides CalCom, Hernandez also leads Nikkei CU in Gardena and Mattel FCU in El Segundo. He has worked as a shared CEO for 16 years, starting in 2002 when then-Copley Los Angeles FCU asked him to help when its CEO became ill and later passed away. At the time he was CEO of CalCom.

He said a CEO has to be able to delegate, be responsive, adapt, and be willing to be unconventional, among other things. A credit union has to accept an expense reduction, flexibility, and remote access.

Hernandez also discussed the value of collaboration, particularly the 10-year-old Southern California Credit Union Alliance which he founded and now has 50 member credit unions representing nearly $30 billion in assets. It counts within its membership not only smaller credit unions but also the largest, SchoolsFirst.

“We’re not an incubator of collaborative ideas. We are a group that simply provides a forum for credit unions to talk and collaborate,” he said.

NOTE: ACU CU serves 30,000 members on the islands of Curaçao, St. Maarten, and Aruba. Cooperativa Riobamba has 12 branch locations and serves more than 80,000 members with assets surpassing $287 million. Coosajo is the largest credit union in Guatemala, with assets of more than $232 million, more than 123,000 members, and 14 branches. Abaco is the second largest credit union in Peru and established by the Nikkei community of Japanese immigrants in the country, serving more than 18,000 members with assets of more than $440 million.

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